CONSISTENT DEPTH, SPACING. A 42 1/2-foot wide John Deere 1860 no-till single disk opener air drill equipped with a 270 bushel 1900 air cart lets Ralph Holzwarth maintain uniform seed depth and consistent seed spacing with wheat and soybeans seeded into high density crop residue.

“Leave the Soil Alone” Is The Key To 12-Year No-Till Success

Longer no-till rotations have provided many benefits with this 5,000 acre no-till operation.

As a young farmer, it bothered Ralph Holzwarth to see soil wash away after heavy spring precipitation and then blow away during long, hot summers. He thought there must be a better way.

After no-tilling for 12 years along the Missouri River in north central South Dakota near Gettysburg, where average annual precipitation is less than 20 inches, Holzwarth has learned a lot about soil quality, residue management and crop rotations.

While no-tillers in high rainfall areas see wet soils at planting time as a major disadvantage, Holzwarth perceives it as a blessing, knowing that eventually he’ll need that water if his no-till rotations are designed properly.

Where a blizzard dumped 12 inches of snow 2 weeks earlier, a 94-degree temperature fanned by a 35-mile per hour wind was sucking fields dry, and no-till wheat seeding was already underway last spring. It reinforced Holzwarth’s unwavering strategy of extremely low soil and residue disturbance, combined with a water-efficient no-till rotation with his 5,000-acre operation.

No-Till Rotation Sequence

“Back in 1991-92, we thought a 3-year rotation of spring wheat, winter wheat and sunflowers or corn would work with no-tillage, but we quickly learned we just didn’t have the diversity needed to do the trick,” says Holzwarth.

A 1-year break before going back to wheat was not enough. In addition, two low-water use crops out of three did not efficiently use all the water saved with no-till. It was too wet too often.

A typical 4-year sequence now includes spring wheat, winter wheat…

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Ross ron

Ron Ross

Ron Ross pioneered the “What I’ve Learned from No-Tilling” series that has appeared in every issue of No-Till Farmer since August of 2002. He authored more than 100 of these articles.

A graduate of South Dakota State University’s agricultural journalism program, Ross spent most of his career as a writer and editor.

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